Cloris Leachman, Actor and Comedic Icon, Dies at 94

Cloris Leachman, Actor and Comedic Icon, Dies at 94
Image:Jason Kempin (Getty Images)

Cloris Leachman, an actor known for her incredible range and inimitable wit, has died at the age of 94.

While Leachman was best known for her roles as Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, she accomplished a rare feat among female performers: Though her career didn’t truly take off until she was in her 40s, she was able to avoid typecasting, playing everything from Timmy’s mother in Lassie to a prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“It’s been my privilege to work with Cloris Leachman, one of the most fearless actresses of our time. There was no one like Cloris,” her manager, Juliet Green, said in a statement. “With a single look she had the ability to break your heart or make you laugh ‘till the tears ran down your face. You never knew what Cloris was going to say or do and that unpredictable quality was part of her unparalleled magic.”

Leachman’s stardom may not have reached its full power until middle age, but she began acting in childhood. Born in Iowa in 1926, Leachman was working with the Des Moines Playhouse by 11, and began studying at the Actors Studio in New York not long after graduating from college.

She won an Oscar for her work in the 1971 film The Last Picture Show, which she attributed to the stubbornness of director Peter Bogdanovich, who refused to let the producer cut her standout final scene. She delivered a memorable acceptance speech in which she thanked, among other entities, her dance teachers and her piano.

In her 2010 autobiography, Leachman wrote that she wanted to be remembered for living her life full-bore.

“I’ve lived my life; I haven’t trotted alongside it,” she wrote. “I’ve opened the doors of opportunity wherever I’ve seen them. I’ve walked into discoveries and dreams, disappointments and death. I bear the scars of not having obeyed rules made by others, and I wear the deep satisfaction of knowing I never bent to conventions I didn’t believe in.”

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